What is Travertine?
You want a travertine bathroom with a gorgeous cream-colored travertine floor tile you saw in a showroom or someone has mentioned a travertine countertop for your new kitchen. But you have no idea what travertine is, except that it’s hard, comes in squares, and has a lovely smooth surface. Okay.
Simply put, travertine is a kind of stone
In its natural state, it is a sedimentary rock. Dense yet very porous, comprised of carbonate minerals such as aragonite and calcite. The residue left behind by the calcium bicarbonate in mineral water solidifies into calcium carbonate deposits.
When you look at unpolished, untreated, or “raw” travertine you’ll see it’s very porous, almost as if soda fizz had been trapped in stone. It looks that way because that’s exactly what it is. Carbonated water permeated limestone, and then with a change of temperature and a release of carbon gas, the bubbles crystallized.
Since travertine is part of the limestone family (and marble is also a highly pressurized version of limestone converted to granite), sometimes travertine is referred to as Travertine Marble, although in fact not marble at all.
Where Does Travertine Come From?
Travertine deposits are primarily found in Tivoli, Italy.
Ancient Romans mined the region of Tivoli, then known as Tibur, and the stone was called lapis tiburtinus or tibur stone. Over time the name was altered to travertine. Italy monopolized the travertine market up until about 10 years ago, now travertine is exported from deposits in Afghanistan, Turkey, Mexico, Guatemala, and Peru.
Some Famous Buildings Made of Travertine
Travertine has been utilized in home construction since the middle ages, but the most famous edifice ever to be constructed almost entirely from travertine is the Roman Coliseum. The Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Paris, the Getty Center in Los Angeles, the lobby of the Willis Tower in Chicago, and the first floor of the UCLA Medical Center (designed by the famous architect Welton Becket who uses travertine wall tiles in nearly all his designs)are examples of the extensive use of travertine in modern construction.
Travertine Tile Color
Pure travertine rock is naturally white. Due to organic contamination during its formation, it can take on a yellow or brown tone. Refined travertine tile comes in a variety of colors, from ivory white, tan, creamy beige, and grey to rosy coral reds, auburn, deep chocolate, walnut, and gold (which occurs when there is iron in the stone). Cutting travertine and laying travertine tile or wall tiles correctly can enhance the pronounced grain or veins so as to create a pattern that is unique for every area in which it is used.
Travertine Tile Care And Finishes
Raw travertine has pitted holes or a bubble-like appearance and natural grooves. These grooves or troughs can be filled with grout or left natural. Tile can be bought already “filled” or “unfilled” and can then be finished by polishing until smooth like marble, honed to smoothness but retaining a matte finish, or brushed and tumbled to obtain a naturally aged look.
The Four Finishes are:
Polished for a shiny, flat smooth surface
Honed for matte, flat smooth surface – the most common finish.
Brushed for a flat yet textured surface
Tumbled for a flat yet textured surface – this finish reflects the least amount of light
*Caution –Although sealed for protection, travertine tile doesn’t react well to certain types of spills such as orange juice or vinegar.
Travertine Tile Care
It goes without saying that if you have chosen stone it’s going to last a long time even if you abuse it a little. And if you have chosen travertine wall tiles or flooring it is aesthetically pleasing. However here are a couple of things you should know about travertine tile care. Bear in mind that travertine IS NOT granite or marble but originates with the limestone family, so it’s not stain-resistant or indestructible.
Travertine is a porous stone by nature, made of solidified bubbles, to simplify geology down to kindergarten level. But what this means to you is that if you spill something on your travertine countertops or mosaic tiles the spilled liquid could be absorbed into the stone unless you wipe it up quickly.
Travertine tiles are sensitive to acidic substances like alcoholic drinks, citrus juice, and acid-based cleaners. Don’t use the ever-popular vinegar and water solution to disinfect your countertops and don’t mop your travertine floor tile with any acidic cleaners that will either erode the surface or leave nasty stains.
It is easily stained unless it has been entirely sealed and even then may still be susceptible to discoloration by water or juice. Try to select wall tiles that will be used as backsplashes and travertine countertops and shower tiles that are the most water-resistant as possible and have been well sealed. Ask your retailer about sealants and make sure whoever does your tile installation fills the crevices with grout and finishes everything with a final protective sealer.
Easy to Clean
Don’t panic just yet about travertine porosity, stain-ability or erode-ability. Most people who have installed these tiles in their homes know that it takes very little care to keep the tile looking great. In fact, many would say that travertine tile is one of the most elegant and durable flooring solutions available.
*The line of products from Aldon offers cleaners and care products specifically designed for these tiles. Some of their products are Insta-Clean, Maintain, Dust Whiz, and Aldon Lifeguard which is said to add extra gloss to sealed surfaces and prevent wear on previously sealed surfaces.
Travertine is said to be an easy stone to cut. I’m not sure why that sounds a little funny to me. But all things being relative there are harder stones than others and cutting travertine is easier than many tiles.
Let’s get started
- Say you have the 18′′ x 18′′/ 1⁄2 inch thick travertine tile and a wet tile saw already.
- You’re ready to cut if you’ve marked your pattern, design, or straight line where it needs to be cut.
- Now, you want to cut a few inches on one side and then turn the tile over and finish on the other side to avoid break-out on the edge, which in wood might be splinters or jagged edges.
- Pick a trowel. The best will be a 3/8′′ x 3/8′′.
- Now use medium bed Thinset, which is what holds the tile in place. Be careful not to use the wrong consistency of Thinset because you may get shrinkage which produces cracks.
- Use a wet sponge to wipe the powder from the reverse side of the tiles. They must be clean.
- When the tiles are clean, add a small coat of mortar onto the flat side of the trowel. It sounds simple but this is a technique with a special name: burning or keying in.
- Now you’re ready to scrape away most of what you just put onto the tile. All that should remain is a film of mortar.
- Add more mortar and comb it with the teeth on your trowel. That’s what they’re for if you were wondering. Oh, and try to spread the mortar in only one direction.
You’re almost ready to place the tile….but just a sec.
First, take another tile to make slight groves in the opposite direction of how you placed the mortar. This just helps to avoid air pockets later.
Now set the tile in place!
It’s important to keep your tiling area clean and to wipe away excess material because mortar when dry is very difficult to remove.
If you are following a pattern, which you should be, draw or use a chalk outline before mixing your mortar or placing a single tile. This s called dry lay.
Travertine Tile -Tumbled, Chiseled, Brushed, and Honed
Tumbled travertine floor tile has a natural look because of the veins and pockmarked surface and the porosity of travertine stone which is not destroyed by over-polishing when finished by tumbling. The tumbled look is a favorite for kitchen backsplashes, bathroom designs, and shower areas. There is no question that this more natural or rustic finish it will require careful installation and even more careful sealing. Especially if the travertine tile shower area receives frequent use.
Some of the most popular styles and colors in travertine wall tiles are as follows:
Noce*, with its soft brown tones. However, if this tile is not dark enough you can apply a natural stone enhancer. It will bring out the richer colors.
Cashmere, which is cool ivory with warmer beige flecks, goes well mixed with Noce. These two travertine tiles combined in a pattern create a neutral background for adding other accent colors. And is one reason why they are so often installed in the two most used areas of the home, the bathroom and the kitchen. Tumbled Noce tiles also compliment other countertops including the popular granite counters that match nicely.
For something more colorful, but still earthy (and finished with the tumbled effect) try the Sienna travertine tile to bring out the Mediterranean sun in your home.
For a smoother finish and less pitted surface, with a light feminine beige background and subtle hints of rosy veins, try installing the Antique Beige travertine tile.
Another option for tile finishes that work well with shower designs and rustic modern kitchens, is the chiseled or brushed travertine. Which has rougher edges and is the most natural tile available.
One pattern to keep in mind is Versaille. It has an elegant, expensive look while maintaining rustic appeal.
Honed travertine, which has had its ridges and troughs filled, is the tile requiring the least amount of care. This is because of the rigorous post-mining and pre-installation treatment this stone has undergone to prepare for your kitchen or bath. Most of the small bubbles that cause the pitted look in natural travertine have been filled and ground away by honing. And, therefore, a glossy polished finish is possible.
Some easy-to-remember names in this category are: *Coliseum, Durango Cream, and Tuscany Gold. Their names are reflective of what they look like.
*Just for comparison purposes. The price of the super-polished Coliseum floor tile is between 5.75 and 6.99 per square foot. And naturally tumbled Noce is between 4.99 and 6.99 per square foot.
Travertine Tile Installation
Since you can use travertine tile for indoors and outdoors, one of its common uses is for patios, terraces, and garden walkways. Travertine installation by an inexperienced person is possible, especially for outdoor projects.
Outdoor Patio. If it is a patio, the main concern will be to ensure the ground beneath the patio is level. Garden walkways and Paths. For garden paths, travertine tile installation is especially simple. Because you can place the tiles directly into the leveled soil wherever you desire the path. You can create a path using the travertine tiles as stepping stones. Or you can join them together as a solid walkway. Or stagger them around flowerbeds and shrubbery to make your own unique pattern.
If however, you are going to use travertine floor tile indoors for a kitchen or bathroom, and especially if it may be a travertine shower project you are wishing to create, or if it is a travertine wall tile project…..then it is much more difficult for a novice to do.
I can recommend using a professional tile layer for such complicated projects unless you are semi-professional. Or a jack of all trades who knows a thing or two about mixing mortar, grouting, sealing, and finishing tile surfaces. In bathrooms and kitchens, there are so many corners and crevices and perhaps small steps or slanting drainage areas. Areas that you must calculate and take into account when cutting travertine. Which may cause you to waste a lot of tiles.
If you have undergone a considerable expense to buy travertine tile, why not do it right all the way? Have professionals install them so there will be no leaks or cracks and everything will be level.
If you still want to give it a try then….okay. After deciding on the exact tile you want and the general layout and design, and after you’ve measured and leveled the floor or ascertained that the wall is straight, here are the things you will need to do your own travertine tile installation:
- A wet saw
- A pair of nippers
- A trowel with 1⁄2 inch teeth
- Thinset – a glue for fixing tiles in place
- Sanded Grout –fills the gaps between tiles (comes in colors to match your tile)
- Sealer – use only a travertine-specific sealer. *Many professionals highly recommend Aldon Sealers.
*Aldon also carries a complete line of cleaners and after-installation care products specific to travertine tile. Here are a few of the products: Insta-Clean, Maintain, Dust Whiz, and Aldon Lifeguard. They will add more gloss to sealed surfaces and prevent wear on previously sealed surfaces.